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Role reversal has Tiger Woods in supporting cast

They came in out of Tuesday's wind, the two most fascinating golfers in the world, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, and endured their pre-Masters tournament news conferences. Mickelson first, then, an hour later, Woods.

It had a curious feel to it. After all these years, Mickelson was in the starring role and Woods was in the supporting cast. We've had more than a year to get used to the idea that Tiger is not Tiger anymore, at least not for the time being, but is anybody really used to it?

Mickelson, the beloved Lefty, had a sparkle about him, happy, like his mercurial, go-for-glory golf game. And why not? He won at Houston last weekend, he's won three Masters and he's the defending champion this week.

Woods was cordial, even cracking a smile from time to time, but he still has to play a lot of defense nowadays. He's still being questioned about his life after the scandal that cost him his wife and is defending his third major swing change. There never has been a lot of joy about Tiger and his other worldly golf game but, understandably, there is less now.

For the first time since 1997, Mickelson is rated above Woods in the world rankings. And Mickelson is the favorite this week, which used to never happen when Tiger was in town.

"Doesn't matter," said Woods. "You still have to play the golf tournament, right?"

The last time we saw Lefty, he was firing 63-65 on the weekend to win in Houston. The last time we saw Tiger, he was popping up one tee shot and duck-hooking another, the two totaling only about 300 yards. Like us. Some of the worst shots we've ever seen him hit.

Someone asked Woods if we've seen his best. He said no. When the questioner suggested that was a "dangerous" answer, Tiger said, "Well, I believe in myself. There's nothing wrong with believing in myself. My God, I hope you guys feel the same way about yourselves. You know, that's the whole idea, that you can always become better."

His confidence must have taken an awful beating but he remains unbowed. Asked about his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships (Woods has 14), he said nothing's changed, he still wants that record and he believes he can get it.

These premises where he has won four times might be a tonic for him this week. Driving down Magnolia Lane is nice, he said, but "I'm excited now just thinking about going out there, because that, for me, is the rush, going out there and playing the golf course."

If he makes some putts, Tiger might pull an upset, his first ever.